By Trine Gallegos

ANTIOCH -- With dreams of attending Harvard, Tiffany Cooper is pretty busy. Still, she managed to squeeze in an experience she won't soon forget.

The Antioch High junior recently competed in the Miss California Teen USA pageant, snagging the Miss Congeniality award.

This was the 17-year-old's first pageant.

Cooper said her interest in pageants was sparked after attending last's year event to see a friend compete.

She was impressed with winner Mabelynn Capeluj, and started following her journey via social media.

"I thought it was amazing how she was able to give back to her community and raise awareness for certain causes," she said. "Watching what (they're) able to do is ultimately what led to my decision to enter the pageant."

Held in Long Beach, Cooper said the weekend-long "experience was phenomenal.

"It was different from I thought it would be -- it was way better. I didn't know what to expect, but I was welcomed with open arms."

She said although competitors, the 62 teens were "so nice and helpful. The girls were amazing."

Her pageant roommate and former contestant, Nadia Mejia, helped Cooper with her confidence and preparation.

But, still, she was unprepared for winning the Miss Congeniality award.

"I was surprised ... Not because I consider myself a kind and helpful person, but there were so many kind girls there with great personalities. I am so honored. Everywhere I go I always hope to help those around me.

"It is such a great feeling to know the girls I competed with felt (that way about me)."

And, though there was no talent portion, Cooper said hands-down she would've danced, which she's been doing since she was 2 years old.

Jennifer Eseltine of AHS said Cooper is a "teacher's dream.

She loves and enjoys learning.

Her peers flock to her. People just want to be around her because of her charismatic personality. She doesn't have an ounce of vanity.

"She is so open to getting to know and including anyone and everyone. She has a heart of gold."

Cooper is part of Eseltine's Tobacco Use Prevention Education program.

"She is an amazing public speaker and has so much passion when she is teaching. At our district trainings, she always volunteers and takes the lead to help.

The Antioch native, who attended Fremont Elementary and Antioch Middle School, said she walked away with a great feeling.

"Although, I did not win ... it is still amazing I competed on the Miss California stage. I did it for the experience and had a wonderful one."

And, although, she thoroughly enjoyed herself, "School is and will always be my No. 1 priority. I'm very busy with school. (With a goal of attending) Harvard, there are a lot of steps to take in order to keep myself competitive among the other thousands of applicants."

For more information, visit http://beautypageantnews.com/bianca-vierra-crowned-miss-california-teen-usa-2014/

Reach Trine Gallegos at TrineG@att.net

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